Hard work in Big Easy: TCF to lead cemetery refit

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NEW ORLEANS -- Sometimes hard work is the best thing for raising the spirits.

Nearly 400 travel industry professionals, including CEOs and executives from major travel-related companies, will gather in New Orleans on Feb. 27 to begin restoring and refurbishing the oldest of the city's 31 cemeteries, St. Louis No. 1.

The volunteers were brought together by the Travelers Conservation Foundation (TCF), an organization formed by the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) to help preserve natural and cultural treasures.

The project is one of many such efforts initiated by the TCF under the sponsorship of industry-related companies, and it's the second in a series of volunteer cleanup projects undertaken by the foundation under the title "Tourism Caring for America."

The first was the cleanup of New York's Ellis Island last year.

St. Louis No. 1, which is located near the French Quarter, was consecrated in 1789. It is considered one of the city's most valuable tourism resources by the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, the final resting place of noted New Orleans figures such as voodoo queen Marie Laveau. But in recent years, it has fallen into a state of neglect.

"Some of the tombs are in shambles," said Bruce Beckham, the TCF's executive director. "Bricks are falling apart. The stucco material that covers many of the headstones is full of black soot and decay."

The volunteers will divide into teams, each assigned to refurbish specific tombs.

New Orleans' oldest cemetery, St. Louis No. 1, is a tourism site in need of refurbishment. The TCF is going to wash down the tombs with soft scrubbing brushes, then lime-wash them with a solvent that is similar to a whitewash, said Beckham.

The teams also will sand the rust from the wrought-iron fences that surround some of the tombs and cover them with a fresh coat of paint.

Beckham said the group expects to rejuvenate a third or more of the tombs in the cemetery.

Teams of volunteers will whitewash the 8-foot-high wall around the cemetery; others will rake the cemetery's pebblestone-and-shell walkway.

Starwood Hotels will host a reception and orientation for volunteers at the Sheraton New Orleans on Feb. 26. The group will meet the next day in Jackson Square at Cafe Du Monde, which will donate beignets and coffee to help energize the volunteers.

Shades of Praise, a 50-member gospel group, will perform.

The volunteers will then form a parade led by a high school band that will march through the French Quarter to St. Louis No. 1.

The clean-up will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a midday break for lunch served by celebrated Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme.

At the end of the work day, motorcoaches will transfer the volunteers to the banks of the Mississippi for a cruise on the paddlewheeler Natchez hosted by Hilton Hotels.

Volunteers who wish to stay a second night in New Orleans will be offered a $99 rate on rooms at participating hotels.

Several major New Orleans hotels, such as the Sheraton and the Marriott on Canal Street and three Ritz-Carltons, are providing a total of 300 complimentary rooms to the TCF. Volunteers will pay $49 for use of the rooms on Feb. 27. The payments will be donated to help fund the TCF's conservation efforts.

According to Beckham, the Ellis Island cleanup program proved that volunteers in TCF's conservation projects experience a rare kind of pleasure.

"In the end, people are going to really feel as if they've done something," he said. "It's really a give-back situation."

For more information about the TCF, call (781) 821-5990 or visit www.tcfonline.org.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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